Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The True Effects of Exercise and Weight Loss

Today, two of my clients gave me an interesting article: "Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin" by John Cloud (Time, August 9, 2009), in which the author states that weight loss usually does not occur when people exercise.

Needless to say, I take exception to this.

The author cited multiple medical studies in support of this conclusion. In a nutshell, the studies showed that weight loss was not typical for people in three different groups: sedentary people, fairly active people and those working with a personal trainer for an hour or more a day.

The author noted that, in many cases, people who regularly work out feel more hungry — which is true — and people who are hungry naturally eat. However, he concluded that if exercise makes you more hungry, you will eat more — and if you eat more, you won't lose weight.

This is not necessarily an accurate conclusion.

There are two important keys to weight loss the author did not seem to take into account:
  • Calorie deficit — 3,500 calories equals a pound. You will gain one pound for every 3,500 calories you ingest above what you burn. Burn 3,500 calories more than you take in, you lose a pound.
  • Raise your metabolism — eat five times a day, get enough sleep and drinking sufficient fluids.

I suspect the people in the studies were not monitored for sufficient sleep and fluid intake. They also probably ate three bigger meals, rather than five smaller meals. They might also have failed to eat light snacks after their workouts, which lowers the number of calories eaten at meals and cuts down on total daily calorie intake.

The author states that doctors recommended exercise to their patients for weight loss. With such dismal responses from the exercise study, why would doctors be so in favor of exercise for their patients? Drum roll please: because in addition to burning extra calories (remember that whole 3,500 calorie thing?), it's good for developing balance, building strength and improving overall daily living. In addition to recommending exercise to their patients, I am sure the doctors also discussed lifestyle changes and diet.

No doctor believes exercise alone is a prescription for weight loss. Even infomercials for exercise plans and fitness devices post disclaimers that include a nutrition plan and (subtly) remind viewers that the more fantastic results are not typical for most consumers.

In this Time article, the author correctly states that the people in the studies who filled out diet journals lost more weight than those who didn't keep a journal. Thinking about what you eat before you eat it definitely aids in cutting down on calories.

Trainers and doctors agree: exercise by itself is not the be-all and end-all to weight loss. (If it were, I am sure everyone would have gym memberships and personal trainers.) Without controlling calorie intake, getting enough sleep and drinking enough water, you most likely will not lose weight, no matter your exercise level.

Trainers assist you in this endeavor by providing more interesting and intense workouts than you would most likely provide yourself, which helps burn more calories and hopefully provides a calorie-deficit situation that allows for the possibility of weight loss. They also help you monitor your fluids and sleep, as well as other habits that might not be conducive to your goals.

In conclusion, the article was interesting, but misleading. Weight loss depends on multiple factors that need to all be considered for success.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Total Body Workout vs. Splits

This is a great topic for debate, and a question I am asked quite often:
What is more effective: total body workout three or four times a week or training different body parts on different days of the week?

I am not sure if one is necessarily better than the other.... but they are different.

I am a huge fan of the overall body workout when I am hard-pressed for time. This also is great for weight loss and is a great way to train for overall fitness. When done at a good pace with no rest between sets, it really elevates the heart rate.

Where this type of workout falls short, however, is when people stick to one set of exercises per muscle group. For muscle hypertrophy (muscle enlargement), lifters need to overload their muscles. I personally feel that true gains in muscle mass come from different types of exercise for any given muscle group.

The more exercises we do, the better the neuromuscular response and the more muscle fibers are activated. Once we do that, we become stronger. When that occurs, we can lift more weight. Lifting more weight makes us bigger.

This being said, I prefer body splits for size because it allows lifters to be more thorough with each body part.

This does not mean you can't get bigger on a whole body workout. However, personally, I find it less effective.

Both workouts have their place. Just be mindful of what you are trying to accomplish so you can get the results you want.